It says something bad about everyone associated with this film, the audience included, that boxer Max Baer (Craig Bierko) is so completely vilified. It says that director Ron Howard doesn't have enough faith in the audience to paint an accurate portrait of Baer. Instead, he gives the audience the only thing he believes it can comprehend: an evil, mean, unredeemable man.
Baer is charged with having killed two men in the ring. Though the veracity of one of those incidents is arguable, the allegations haunted him and created the clown/killer character that occupied the ring. Another fact glossed over in this film is that Baer trained very little for his storied fight with James Braddock (Russell Crowe), making it not quite the huge upset it appeared to be.
This just proves that historical movies treat history much like a chimp treats the glass at the zoo. Of course, the movie isn't about Baer, it's about goody-two-shoes, rags-to-riches, come-from-nowhere champion James Braddock. Braddock was a once-promising fighter who found himself unable to support his family during the Great Depression. Somehow, he came out of near-retirement with the unwavering support of his devoted manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), to pull off two big upsets before defeating Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world.
Braddock is presented as such a perfect subject for a film, such a perfect man in every respect, that it's really quite revolting. He never gets angry. He loves his wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger). He tries hard at everything he does. He's humble. He's the kind of guy who the rest of us hate as we try to hide our character issues from others and assert that we're better than the next guy. I submit that the more interesting figure, the one the movie really should have been about, is Baer. Men without flaws aren't interesting. They're like candy without sugar. This little point is why film critics will compare this film unfavorably with "Raging Bull." It's why they prefer "Citizen Kane" to "Casablanca." Life has flaws. Flaws tell us more about who we are.
Still, it's hard to imagine that anybody will find James Braddock an admirable figure. After all, he was one of those people who signed up for and received public assistance during the Great Depression. This is known as welfare to you and me, and while our culture glorified this fact back then as Braddock prepared to fight Baer, in our current political climate this makes him a lazy good-for-nothing bum who lacked the foresight to secure a proper inheritance. "Cinderella Man" is one Russell Crowe vehicle that's quick to turn back into a pumpkin.
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